Broncos coach John Fox was asked last week, What’s wrong with Peyton Manning’s arm? Fox got a good laugh out of that question, and it’s a good thing he enjoyed it. Because he probably won’t get that question again.
Manning demonstrated on Sunday against the Raiders that he’s just fine, thank you: More than capable of carving up an opposing defense and leading his team to a big win, which is exactly what he did in completing 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions, as the Broncos beat the Raiders 37-6. Fox said afterward that he’s seeing just the kind of weekly improvement from Manning he expected from a player who had to sit out the entire 2011 season with a neck injury.
“He’s getting more comfortable,” Fox said. “Let’s not forget he didn’t play for over a year and this is a new team, new coaching staff, new city, new field, new everything for him. The type of guy he is, he’s going to get better and better.”
Is it possible that Manning has lost a little speed off his fastball? Maybe. But Sunday’s game demonstrated that any talk that Manning no longer had an NFL-quality arm after last year’s neck surgeries was every bit as laughable as Fox made it out to be. And anyway, Manning has always beaten opposing defenses more with his head than with his arm. After a year away, Manning looks like more or less the same player who won four league MVP awards in Indianapolis. Manning’s passer rating so far this season is 96.9 — better than the 91.9 rating he had in 2010, his final season with the Colts.
Up next for Manning is a trip to New England for a Sunday showdown with a Patriots team that was his biggest rival when he was in Indianapolis. When Manning and Tom Brady are squaring off, we’re seeing two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history on the field. And while both Manning and Brady are still playing great football, the reality is that they’re the two oldest starting quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and we probably won’t get many more opportunities to see them playing against each other. So when you watch Broncos-Patriots on Sunday, savor the greatness you’ll see from these two quarterbacks.
Here are my other thoughts on this week’s NFL action:
Cam Newton’s touchdown record may only last a year. As a rookie in 2011, Newton set a new NFL record for touchdown runs by a quarterback in a season, with 14. But Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is on pace to top that this year, with four touchdowns in four games. Griffin, who threw for 323 yards and ran for 43 yards in leading his team to a 24-22 win in Tampa Bay on Sunday, is the best athlete ever to play the quarterback position, and it’s easy to see him continuing to average a touchdown a game for 16 games this season — but only if he stays healthy enough to play 16 games this season. Griffin is so confident in himself that he takes some reckless chances with his body when he runs up the middle, and sometimes he takes violent hits. Eventually, he’s going to need to learn that if the end zone is not in reach, he needs to get down, or else he’ll be spending more time on the sideline than in the end zone.
Welcome back, real refs. Ed Hochuli’s bulging biceps were a sight for sore eyes Sunday, and so were the rest of the regular referees, back to work after the NFL wisely ended the lockout of the officials. All those baffling penalties and foolish mistakes from the replacement refs were a thing of the past, and for fans watching at home, it was especially nice having the real referees move the games along quickly: Most of the games that kicked off at 1 p.m. were over before the 4:05 p.m. kickoffs, something that didn’t happen on any of the first three Sundays of the season. Unfortunately, the Packers — who were ripped off by the replacement refs last week — were saddled with the worst regular ref in the NFL, Jeff Triplette. A week after the Packers were robbed of a victory over the Seahawks by the replacement officials, the Packers were nearly robbed of a victory over the Saints by Triplette and his crew. Green Bay overcame major officiating mistakes including a Saints fumble that was wrongly ruled down by contact and an obvious push-off on a Saints touchdown catch that was somehow not called. If bad officiating had cost the Packers another game, there might have been a riot at Lambeau Field.
When Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is inducted into the Hall of Fame some day, Jeff Backus should introduce him. Backus, the Lions’ longtime left tackle, knows better than anyone how hard it is to block Allen. Because Backus has to do it twice a year, and Allen always gets the better of him. Last season, Allen had three sacks in each of the Vikings’ two games against the Lions. On Sunday, in the Vikings’ 20-13 win over the Lions, Allen had a sack and three tackles for loss. There are few bigger mismatches in the NFL than a one-on-one battle between Backus and Allen.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith looks like the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Smith had an absolutely insane stat line against Baylor on Saturday: 45-of-51 for 656 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith has a good arm, he’s a good athlete, and he’s an intelligent young man who should be a quick study in learning an NFL offense. A lot can change between now and April, but Smith looks like the kind of player who will make NFL scouts drool.
Rex Ryan had the quote of the day. Describing his Jets’ loss to the 49ers, Ryan said, “I was going to say we got our butt kicked, but really, we got our ass kicked.” Ryan was in too bad a mood to avoid profanity, and it’s hard to blame him. The Jets lost 35-0 and looked like a mess.
I can’t believe the Cardinals are 4-0. And I also can’t believe the Saints are 0-4. But that’s what makes the NFL so fun: We spend all offseason obsessing over coaching changes and free agency and the draft and training camp battles, and we’re sure we know how the league stacks up this year, and then by the time the season is a quarter of the way over, impossible things have happened. Like a team we knew was bad starting undefeated, or a team we knew was good starting winless, or an aging and injured quarterback still playing like a great one.